Phoenix have been around for fourteen years. This is their fifth album. Yes you heard me. Off the back-end of hugely successful Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the French indie band had a meteoric rise that would only be comparable to what some of the indie, 90’s revivalist bands are experiencing now. And now it’s time for that tricky fifth album, Bankrupt!
Lead track ‘Entertainment’ starts off the album in a rather bizarre, almost oriental fashion with shimmering keys and bravado. Once this passes, the comfort of the Strokes-esque guitars kick in whilst the trademark rumbling, longing vocals of Thomas Mars provide a sense of security that the next 40 minutes won’t alienate too badly.
This album is once again filled with neat, radio-friendly three-and-a-something-minute songs, and for a band with Phoenix’s energy this is long enough, especially considering the fact they’ve dialled up the synths. Interspersed with fuzzy, mostly subtle electronic hums, the guitars that were so prominent on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix are subdued, having to contest their place at the front of the stage.
The tracks aren’t all that dissimilar to the previous work, but appear more hazy now, arguably more balanced and not simply stuffed full of child-like – albeit catchy and peppy – rhythms. ‘SOS In Bel-Air’ is a prime example of this; a busy yet vibrant coexistence of man and machine, while ‘Trying To Be Cool’ is one where the warped, liberally applied riffs and synths are unashamedly modern.
They’ve added a dash of synth here, and an essence of the exotic too, but the recipe remains fairly unchanged; they even kept the minimalist, airy equivalent to ‘Love Like A Sunset’ in ‘Bankrupt!’, a truly modern and rather indulgent piece of French orchestra. Incidentally, Bankrupt! is the pivot point for the entire album, as the energy generally starts to seep away, and never really returns.
There’s no sense of the same gumption that Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix had, but that’s not something easily reproduced. With Phoenix becoming a little darker and more aware of their place in the pop landscape, this is perhaps no surprise but it does numb the album somewhat.
The placid repetitiveness of Lars’ lyrics is fine at fast pace, but gets weighed down on tracks such as ‘Don’t’, which is essentially a overly long shoegaze song dressed up in bright lights against its will and ‘Cholorform’ which has an air of the despondent about it. It’s this latter part of the album which spirals out of control a little bit.
Bankrupt! is a fine piece of classic, bright indie pop, and essentially a natural progression of their work, but there are some considerable, eclectic stumbles.